Shopping carts being abandoned throughout Manteca are not a homeless problem per se.
While many have long attributed the problem to homeless commandeering them to push their belongings around, store managers and police note the vast majority of the culprits are people who are illegally taking them from the parking lot of stores to take groceries and other purchases home.
Rarely do the homeless snatch a shopping cart from a store’s parking lot. Instead when they do take them it is from where others leave them. Hot spots include McNary Circle where there are numerous duplexes and four-plexes east of Doctors Hospital, along Moffat Boulevard where several motels rent rooms by the week, older apartment complexes in the central district, and at locations sprinkled through the city where renters typically have no way to travel to and from stores except on foot.
Often times as many as a dozen carts will accumulate in one place as those who “borrow” the carts rarely take them back on their next shopping trip.
That said, shopping carts have popped up along Atherton Drive, along freeway ramps, and even in orchards. Carts have been left in front of $400,000 homes, in the middle of vacant fields, on school grounds, and in parks.
The city for more than a decade has relied on the tireless efforts of the Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police (SHARP) to collect the abandoned carts and take them to the municipal public works yard. Stores are then called to retrieve the carts.
The city currently doesn’t charge for the service. Before the SHARP started doing the retrieval, stores contracted with private firms at $3 a cart to retrieve shopping carts that can cost as much as $400 new. Most Manteca stores have since stopped using private sector cart retrieval services that were not as efficient and effective as the SHARP effort.
Research a decade ago showed that some larger Manteca retailers were losing $6,000 to $10,000 a year from carts that were never retrieved or were destroyed after they had been taken from their parking lots.
During the week SHARP volunteers during their patrols for graffiti, to remove illegal signs left up on light poles and other locations for garage sales and such, vacation checks, and general efforts to provide the department with additional eyes in neighborhoods, note where shopping carts have been left.
Then on Saturday — the same day SHARP handles graffiti abatement — volunteers use a pickup truck provided by South San Joaquin Irrigation District to retrieve the shopping carts.
Police Chief Jodie Estarziau lauded the SHARP unit’s effort noting they are making an immense difference given the city lacks the manpower to do such an undertaking in a timely and as effective manner when it comes to shopping carts and other efforts such as graffiti abatement. Besides tackling abandoned shopping carts in a more timely manner, it frees up paid city personal for more pressing concerns.
Estarziau said citizens can help the effort in two ways.
They can use the government outreach on the city’s website or access the City of Manteca app available on the Android and App Store to report shopping cart locations
“If they see a shopping cart and they’re walking to the store, they can simply take it back with them,” the police chief said.
Some retailers such as Target employs a low tech system using a 1-inch wire loop buried under the perimeter of the parking lot. It is connected to a low-power antenna. Push a cart over that loop and a signal triggers the rear wheel on the carts to lock using a boot. The only way to get it to roll again is for workers to use an electric device to deactivate the boot.
The Manteca Kmart on Northgate Drive had a cart deposit system in the late 1990s requiring quarters to get a cart that would be returned when the shopper returned the cart to a corral. The store dropped the system after receiving numerous complaints from customers.
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